This project began with a surprising discovery. After years of chronic shortages of mental-health care options in Washington state, for-profit companies were competing to build new psychiatric hospitals, and state regulators had approved a major expansion of inpatient beds. How would these new hospitals, geared to make money, serve people who arrive there at their most vulnerable?
Reporter Daniel Gilbert spent months pursuing this question. He interviewed about 150 current and former employees of psychiatric hospitals, patients and their family members, regulators and mental-health professionals. He filed more than 180 public-records requests, obtaining thousands of pages of regulatory complaints, inspection reports, emergency-dispatcher notes, police reports, death records, 911 calls, video footage from inside hospitals and other public documents. Patients and family members also shared their medical records.
So far, our investigation has revealed how one company’s aggressive expansion put patients in peril; how patients and hospital employees suffer harm far more often than is reported to regulators; and how private hospitals regularly refuse to release patients who checked in voluntarily until forced to by mental-health officials.
Since these articles began publishing, a Massachusetts health-care system has launched a review of its partnership with a company we profiled, and Gov. Jay Inslee has directed the state Department of Health to draw up new legislative and regulatory tools to improve oversight of private psychiatric hospitals.
Our reporting continues.